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Why is my dog limping from his back legs?

Jack Russell dog getting back leg checked

A dog limping could be caused by an injury or could be an underlying health problem.

© Shutterstock

Limping or lameness in a dog can be the result of several medical problems. If your dog is limping on just her back legs, this could be due to abnormal anatomy or an injury.

By Dawn Parrish

Updated on the 20/05/2021, 16:13

The leg anatomy comprises of several joints, bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage, which means there are plenty of structures which could have a problem.

Limping itself is simply a symptom, and not a condition, and therefore it’s important to get to the bottom of what’s wrong. In the end, limping is due to one of two things: pain or mechanical inability to move the leg properly. In this article we will explore what causes limping in the hind legs.

Limping or Lameness

The symptoms of these conditions can certainly be worse at different times of the day. Probably first thing when your dog rises, and last thing before bedtime. Perhaps after she has taken vigorous exercise or possibly even just after a snooze.

Symptoms of dog limping on back legs only

There are several presenting signs if your dog is suffering from discomfort due to lameness in her rear legs. Things to look out for are:

  • Refusing to bear weight on injured leg or legs 
  • Not being able to walk or to run without limping
  • Difficulty jumping into the car, or when walking up or down the stairs
  • General symptoms of pain and discomfort
  • Loss of muscle mass on the problematic limb
  • Begins to walk slower than usual
  • Not putting the pad of her paw into direct contact with the floor
  • Any abnormality or swelling of the joints
  • Yelping when a specific part of the leg is touched

Causes why dogs limp on their back legs

Like humans, a dog will limp for many reasons. However, your dog cannot explain to you where the pain is, or what happened to cause the discomfort. As a responsible owner, it’s up to you to try to figure it out. Canine lameness, the medical term, is one of the most common reasons why a dog will visit the Vet’s surgery. Here are several causes why your dog may suddenly begin to limp.

Too much exercise

If your dog exerts herself too much during a run in the park or a play session, her muscles may be sore. She may find it difficult to rise from her bed without limping on her back legs.

Maybe something sticking in her paw

Remember that your dog doesn’t wear shoes, so it’s very easy for her to stand on a foreign object outside. If your dog holds up her foot or begins to limp on her back leg, she might have a lump of gravel or a thorn in her pad.

Problems with toenails causing a dog to limp

If your pet doesn’t do much walking on the concrete ground, a nail might have curled around and overgrown. An overgrown toenail might dig into her skin causing pain. Likewise, if she has just come back from the grooming parlour, perhaps her nails have been cut too short. Also, nails can become easily caught on objects and may become traumatised.

Injury can cause lameness and limping in a dog

If your dog is very active, there is a chance that she may have torn, strained or sprained a soft tissue structure in the back leg. This could be a muscle, ligament or tendon. This is probably the case if the limping on the back legs begins suddenly. This lameness may subside in one or two days or potentially take months to heal, so it’s important to take your dog to the vet to determine exactly what is injured.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is a common condition in canines, especially pedigree breeds. Both elbow and hip dysplasia will result in a lame dog. It is a hereditary disease where the joint conformation is poor, and the hips don’t fit together properly.  Medical treatment is usually required, and in extreme cases, surgical correction is indicated.

Broken leg or fracture

It’s not always possible for a human to spot a broken bone without a medical assessment and X-ray. If your dog suddenly begins to limp on her back legs and doesn’t want to bear any weight, get your vet to check the affected limb to check than no bones are broken.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition of middle aged and older dogs. It is when the joint cartilage and joint fluid gradually degrades, resulting in an inflamed and poorly mobile joint. It is a chronic, painful condition, which improves with gentle exercise, and worsens after the joint has become stiff with rest. There is no cure for arthritis and chronic care is required.

Care for your lame dog

Of course, these are just a few of the different medical conditions that can make your dog limp. The first thing you should do is to try and figure out where the pain is. Observe her as she walks around. Likewise, notice which limb she won’t put onto the ground.

Now begin to examine the leg that is sore. Check out one of her legs that appears to be fine first, then you have something to compare with. See how she responds to your pressure and touch. Examine her feet pads, toes, nails and all of her joints and bones.

Should I take my dog to the vet if she is limping?

The severity of the limp and how quickly it became apparent is a good indicator as to whether your dog needs to be seen by a vet. If the limp is severe, if your dog is not weight baring, if there is an obvious area of swelling, discharge or bleeding, or if your dog’s leg is paralysed, she needs to go to the vets. If the limping is mild, and your dog seems otherwise well, you can keep your dog rested at home for a few days to see if there is an improvement before going to the vet.

Treatment for a dog limping on her back legs

Finally, you can give your dog the treatment she needs, once you have discovered the cause of the lameness. It’s important to work with your veterinarian to determine the severity of the lameness and what the best course of treatment is. This might involve anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, or even surgery.

How can I help my limping dog?

Your main priority when your dog is recuperating at home is to make her as comfortable as you can to reduce the pain. A compress, either hot or cold as needed, will probably reduce some of the inflammation and swelling. Restricting the movement, and as much rest as possible over the next few days may help provide some relief.

Don’t assume that because your dog doesn’t bark, whine, or continues to move around, that she isn’t in pain. In normal circumstances, it takes a huge amount of discomfort for your dog to protest and alert you to her limp.

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS